IF YOU'VE walked into a music store lately, you’ll know that the big shift is well under way: music retreating into the back of the store; electronics and accessories taking over the front.
It means that, while record companies are collapsing about our ears, business has never been better for companies that help make our music sound better. The world has never seen as many high-end headphones, nor as many celebrity-endorsed headphones, as in 2013.
The International Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas in January hosted almost as many headphone makers as iPhone accessory manufacturers. And there are a few of those. It also meant that CES was awash with sports and music celebrities posing with “custom-made” headphones.
Football star Tim Tebow stepped forward to unveil his “limited edition” SL300 for Soul Electronics, which also launched the Run-Free headphones inspired by Olympic sprint champion Usain Bolt. “Limited edition”, of course.
And then they also had designs personalised by soccer star Cesc Fabregas and hip-hop artist Ludacris. Fellow rapper 50 Cents made his customary appearance at CES to launch the SMS by 50 headphones with SMS Audio. iHip teamed up with MTV’s Snooki for headphones that are also fashion accessories.
The most authentic personalisation, however, came from a name from the past: Bob Marley. The reggae legend’s legacy has been carefully managed by his family, with his widow Rita Marley launching the One Love Foundation, an umbrella body for the family’s commercial and charitable projects.
Three corporations have emerged from these activities: the Marley Beverage Company, Marley Coffee, and the House of Marley – an audio equipment and accessories business with the slogan, “Made better to make a difference”.
While Rita oversees the organisation and Marley’s son Ziggy is the best-known of his musician children, the business face of the House of Marley is Ziggy’s brother Rohan: a larger-than-life character who exudes the family mission to “Keep Bob’s vision of hope and unity alive”.
At CES, he mixed freely with customers at the House of Marley booth and posed with fans for impromptu cellphone photo shoots. He was more eager to speak of his love for South Africa than of the company’s headphones.
He had visited South Africa with brothers Ziggy and Stephen for the 2010 World Cup, and again last year to launch the House of Marley headphone range – both low-key visits.
“Last year was really awesome from a social point of view, because connecting with the people of Africa is close to my heart. I previously spent time in Joburg, Durban and Pretoria for the World Cup. When I returned it felt so comfortable and so familiar.
“It was so great to contribute something to South Africa and to the causes we worked with. It was part of our father’s dream, and part of our dream, too, to give something to Africa.
"Our plan is to spend more time in South Africa, helping to grow our business and contribute to social responsibility.”
The House of Marley headphones and accessories stand out dramatically against the background of numerous shiny silver and white devices that proliferate at an event like CES. Most Marley products are encased in a recycled fabric in brown and green earthy colours, complementing the reggae colours associated with Bob Marley.
Rohan is adamant that the House of Marley is only partly about shifting product.
“What we’re doing is just a vehicle, that helps develop sustainability, helps make this world a better place. It’s wonderful to create stuff, but what’s behind it?
"I can’t find a better place than Africa to create opportunities to show this thinking. The House of Marley colours feel African, because that's our roots.”
The most fascinating aspect of these products, and one that is unlikely to be matched by a Fabregas or Ludacris, is their recycled components.
“We’re using recycled aluminum, FSC-certified (the organisation that promotes responsible management of the world’s forests) wood, bamboo, organic content, natural fibres, recycled plastic, recycled pulp for packaging, and even soya bean ink.
"And we created a patented fabric called Rewind, made from recycled water bottles, hemp and condoms.”
The fabric alone carries an air of rebellion that one suspects Bob Marley would have enjoyed. Rohan agrees.
“We have to be revolutionary. As a musical revolutionary, one must be progressive and be part of change.”
is managing director of World Wide Worx
and editor-in-chief of Gadget.co.za
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. Views expressed are his own.